Date of this Version
Published in The Social Fabric: Deep Local to Pan Global; Proceedings of the Textile Society of America 16th Biennial Symposium. Presented at Vancouver, BC, Canada; September 19 – 23, 2018. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/tsaconf/
Two surviving late fourteenth-century quilted furnishings, the Coperta Guicciardini in the Museo Nazinale del Bargello, Florence, and the Tristan Quilt in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, depict scenes from the legend of Tristan, one of King Arthur’s knights. Both museums attribute the furnishings to a southern Italian atelier. Research to-date essentially treats these works as if, like Athena from the head of Zeus, they burst complete. Yet by the twelfth century Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Norman occupation and active trade with the Levant, all had contributed to the culture of southern Italy. Prime evidence is the mosaic floor, dated 1165, in the Basilica of Otranto, where, amid real and mythical beasts, Sheba solicits Solomon, Alexander ascends to heaven, and King Arthur salutes us. Moreover, late twelfth-century inventories on the Island of Sicily and the peninsula’s mainland record quilted camera or bedchamber furnishings. The island inventories are from middle class families and note only simple floral or geometric imagery. Inventories from or associated with the kingdom of Naples, however, reveal that the noble and/or wealthy enjoyed refined camera furnishings. Notaries describe careful stitching and works of immense size to suit the beds of elites. Evocative imagery filled these pieces: “bestes,” fleur de lys, the Agnus Dei, the Seven Virtues, stories of Alexander and Solomon, even one that mingles kings, queens, and St. George altogether. Several inventory listings specify they were acquired along the kingdom’s Mediterranean coast, where traders from the Levant carrying raw and cotton/linen goods stopped for provisions en route to Palermo and Naples. Those imports may have included finished products. Between 1393 and 1492, four inventories list expensive furnishings “from the port of Tripoli,” Syria. Significantly, however, “work of Naples” is most frequently noted in contemporary records. This, I suggest Neapolitan needleworkers stitched the surviving Tristan furnishings.